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The Cousin Heyeses

“I fell off a horse,” Heyes took a slow breath, then let it out. He paused and his eyes flickered to Kid Curry’s face.

“He fell off a horse, Doc,” the Kid said. “And broke his arm.”

“It’s better,” Heyes stretched his arm to show. “In fact, I wouldn’t trade it for a new one.”  Suddenly he bent forward in a fit of hoarse coughing. When it was over, the Kid eased him back on the pillows, and the doctor listened to his lungs again.

Curry stared with dismay at his friend’s white face. “A doctor fixed his arm up, and we moved on. We kept it to short days because it hurt him to ride. Then he got this fever and cough. And it just kept getting worse. The arm got better, but finally, he couldn’t ride at all.”

The doctor asked with disbelief, “You traveled in winter on horseback with a man who had just broken his arm?”

Curry thought — Yes, because everyone keeps getting too nosy — just like you’re doing! He felt the sudden, now familiar anger and frustration. “We had to get somewhere by a certain date. Missed it.”

“A job,” Heyes added quietly, ever ready to improve a story.

They glanced at each other and shared a quick smile. The doctor looked from one to the other. “And what did you do then? Where did you stay?”

“A little house about a half-day’s ride from here.” The Kid answered. He almost laughed at this description of the deserted shed they’d found. Too late he realized the doctor would certainly know every house in the area.

“Whose house?” the doctor’s timing was perfect. “I know every house around here. I haven’t heard about strangers bunking with anyone.”

The Kid winced. This was why Heyes always did the talking!

“Doc, it was a shed.” Heyes spoke very low to keep the cough at bay. “I couldn’t go on, so we stopped. Don’t tell us what we should have done.”

The doctor tilted his head as if to show his question really hadn’t mattered much. “All right, so how did you get here if you couldn’t travel?”

“My friend tied me in front of him and we rode in leading my horse.” Heyes’ eyes were bright now and sparked with resentment, “Don’t you—.” The cough got him again.

They settled him once more, and the Kid ordered, “Don’t talk. It makes you cough.”

Heyes grinned weakly, “I have to talk. It’s my nature.”

Curry finished up the story. “I sold our horses and gear, moved my friend into this room, and here we’ve been.”

“Why did you wait until now to call me?”

Curry shook his head, at a loss for words. How did you tell a doctor that seeing him was risking twenty years in jail? So you did it only when there was something you must know?

The doctor rose and put his hand on Curry’s shoulder. He spoke softly, “Mr. Jones—,” and motioned for him to follow into the hall. As the Kid turned, responding as easily to his alias as to his real name, he glanced back and was surprised to see Heyes staring at the quilt. The wind tore around the building again, and when the Kid felt the icy draft, he turned and tucked Heyes under the bedding. After a second’s thought, he was inspired to put Heyes’ black hat on his friend’s head to keep him warm.

“I feel stupid with my hat on in bed,” Heyes murmured, already half-sleep.

“Yeah, well, you look stupid.”

Heyes smiled and sighed. His eyes closed. The Kid turned to follow the doctor, who stood in the doorway. A lot rested on what this man said next.

Curry came back into the room after just a few minutes, grim and quiet. He saw his partner was asleep. So reluctantly he took off his boots and outer clothes, and stood shivering in his long underwear. It was so cold in the room that he reached for his own hat and put it on his head. He turned to the bed — no fancy room with two beds and brass bedsteads and a big warm fire for them now. It was one bed, rope hung, and with a mattress that seemed to be filled with bramble.

Though his teeth were starting to chatter, Curry took off his hat and examined it. It was time to get Heyes a new one, the thing on his head looked like a dead skunk. Sleeping in it could only help. The Kid saw no reason, however, to spoil his own; he liked a good hat. He put it back on its peg. Then the Kid eased under the covers, pulled them over his head, and wondered if he should thank Heyes for warming the bed.

Chapter the Second

When Curry rose the next morning, Heyes was awake. In the mornings, he seemed to feel better. It was as the day wore on that he became less comfortable and a fever set in. It pleased the Kid to see the familiar face watching him from the pillows. This morning it was as if the doctor’s visit itself had given his friend strength. Curry decided to postpone telling him the doctor’s answer to their question.

Today was the day to pay rent for the room. Thinking about the money situation, Curry put on his pants and shirt and tied down his gun. First, he had to get to the doctor’s house.

“Where you going, Kid?” Heyes asked.

“To get breakfast.”

“Isn’t it early?”

“Never too early for breakfast.”

“What did the Doc say? Is it what we think?” Heyes asked quietly as he reached around to shift his pillows and coughed the first cough of the day.

“That’ll wait. The Doc said he’d have a tonic and medicine for you this morning. I’m going to get them. Then I’ll get you something to eat.”

“How much money do we have?” Heyes asked.

The question was a surprise because once they moved here, Heyes had never shown any interest in their situation. It was as if he had forgotten the amnesty and that they were wanted and always needed funds to run far and fast if conditions demanded it. The Kid fumbled for a clever dodge, then gave up and admitted, “Twenty two dollars and thirty eight cents.”

Heyes jumped, startled. He glanced around the room as if he’d never seen it before. “You sold our horses and gear?”

“You knew that; I told you.”

“Then — have we been here long?”

“Seven weeks next Tuesday.”

“Seven weeks!” Heyes threw back the quilts as if this news made him want to get somewhere else quick. The effort started the coughing. He tried to push Curry aside and get to his feet. But once standing he knew enough to sit down and fall back on the pillows.

The Kid helped shift the bedclothes over him. “Heyes, you’ve been asleep a lot. You think you’re sick now. You were out of your head when we came in. I was scared you would call me Curry.” He smiled when Heyes’ eyes hit him with a small reproach — Kid, as if I’d do that!

“Seven weeks. I hadn’t thought it.” Heyes lay with eyes closed, his arms folded. After a minute, he swallowed and asked, “Kid, how many times have you shown these people your fast draw?”

Uneasy, Curry shrugged. “Only once — well, twice. The first time at a poker game — and the other — you’d have done it yourself, Heyes.”

Heyes did not say he thought this unlikely. Instead he nodded, eyes still closed. “I feel hungry today. Get me some ham, Kid. Then we’ll talk. No, I want beer.”

“Beer! Heyes!” The Kid’s surprise was enough to make Heyes open his eyes to look at him. “Have you gone crazy?”

“We have beer for breakfast.”

“Only when we had it for supper the night before!” The Kid planted his hat on his head and rose to go. “Forget it. I’ll be back soon. You rest.”

When the door had closed behind his partner, Heyes shut his eyes and acknowledged how good it was not to have someone nearby moving around. Alone, he could just be quiet and try to feel peaceful. After a few minutes, though, he raised his head and looked around the dingy room with new interest. So, for seven weeks he’d been here. That was a long time in his life. Even the Devil’s Hole Gang seemed to shift camp more than that.

He put one arm behind his head and looked toward the windows. Outside, it was a pretty morning. The snow was dazzling away like diamonds, heaped high on the rooftops and caught in the corners of the windows’ frames. The young yellow sun shone down on everything with equal attention and pleasure. Outside he could hear the jingle and thudding of horses and people’s friendly calls of good morning and hello.

Inside, the room was drab and dark. It was small and there was no fire. That was all right because they had to leave it. Sleeping time was over and it seemed the running must begin again. But it was still a good world. One that would be made to serve them. They had twenty two dollars and thirty-eight cents and a room with a bed. He’d outraged the Kid with just five or six inspired words. What could be better?

Chapter the Third

An hour later Curry returned. He carried a slice of ham in some greasy paper and a paper parcel tied with string. He woke Heyes and gave him the meat. “They wouldn’t give me a plate.”

“Where’s my beer?” Heyes made himself sound irritated as he took the ham.

“They wouldn’t give me a pail and I couldn’t carry it in my hands!” Curry snapped and Heyes laughed. Of course, that brought back the cough and he bent over the ham and coughed until the spell passed. When he finally got free of it, he looked up and saw Curry staring at him sharply.

Heyes was about to speak when a knock sounded. Both men jumped, then stared at the door, as if together they might see who it was. Heyes put the ham on the stand by the bed and Curry reached for his gun.

“Who is it?” he called.

“Mrs. Statton. I’ve brought your water,” a voice cried reproachfully.

Curry grimaced. Heyes tried not to smile at his sour face. Reluctantly, the Kid crossed the room to open the door.

In came the rooming house’s owner, carrying two buckets. Small and spare and wiry in her black widow’s weeds, she returned the boys’ greetings with a short nod. They were not her especial favorites. Staying too long and paying too little, they had brought sickness into the house, and she suspected that the yellow-haired one had left a woman somewhere — more than one — who wept over him every day. Curly yellow hair had been her own downfall.

Without embarrassment, she took up the night slops jar and put it in the hallway. Then she poured their old washing water into one bucket and refilled the pitcher from the other. She began to leave, but the sick one asked winningly, “Could I have some fresh water to drink, M’am? And maybe a piece or two of bread?”

“Extra things should cost extra,” she answered and took up the pitcher by the bed. There on the stand on a paper lay a big piece of ham. “I hope you aren’t getting my bedclothes greasy.”

“No, M’am,” said the yellow-haired one. “We’re taking care.”

“Yes, M’am,” the sick one said seriously, then added with a smile that warmed her heart. “It isn’t everywhere a lady like you would be kind enough to take care of travelers.”

The widow tried not to smile, but “lady” was something she liked to hear. She hesitated, but answered, “I’ll get what you asked for this time because I’m glad to see you’re talking today, Mr. –.“

“Joshua Smith. At your service, M’am,” answered the man, who in her eyes had already begun to seem especially pleasant.

“Thank you, M’am.” And the yellow-hair nodded with proper respect as she passed out into the hall.

When the door had closed, Heyes chided his friend, “Smile at her, Kid. She’s a widow with an old maid daughter, renting rooms to people like us.”

“Nah,” the Kid made a wry face. “She doesn’t like me.” He took out his knife and began to cut the ham in pieces

“Why do you say that?”

“When a person who doesn’t know you looks at you as if they know you and what they know isn’t good — that person doesn’t like you.”

“Do you think she knows us?” Heyes asked, then answered, “No, we’d be in jail.”

He coughed and the sound was rough and deep in his chest. The Kid reached around for the paper parcel. “Here’s your medicine. The Doc said one spoon of this tonic two times a day, and one spoon of this every time your cough gets bad.”

“Spoon?” Heyes inquired with exaggerated helplessness. He looked around as if a spoon might be found somewhere on the quilt. The Kid gave him an assessing look.

“I’ll get the spoon, Heyes.” The Kid said. “Right now you just take a swallow.”

Heyes nodded toward the bottles, “How much now?”

“Seventeen dollars. The doc settled for just the two bucks and change. The widow gets three.”

“Any work here?” Heyes glanced at the ham and quickly looked away. It seemed everything made him feel queasy except bread.

“Nothing that pays — for a man without a horse. I’ve fixed every widow’s sagging porch and mended every broken sidewalk board, sawed enough wood to burn the town down next winter, and unless I go around at night and undo the work I’ve done—.”

“Thanks, Kid — I hate to know you’re doing this.” The ham’s odor was sickening, but he forced himself take some. He put it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed hard.

Curry added quickly, “It’s not so bad, Heyes. Sometimes I get work loading the freight cars—.”

Suddenly, Heyes winced and shifted in the bed.

“Are you all right?” Curry asked.

Heyes nodded irritably. “Just a pain here.” He gestured toward his ribs on his left side.

“A new one? Or the same thing?”

“New. It’s new.” Heyes drew in a nervous breath. “Kid, what did the doc say?”

Troubled, the Kid clasped his hands and stared down at them. He could not make himself speak.

Heyes’ patience broke. He demanded, “Kid! Are you going to tell me?” Heyes struck hard at the bed stand with his fist. Instantly the effort compelled him to cough and cough until he gasped aloud and grabbed at the red and white quilt as if it might support him. Once quiet again, he looked over at his partner with weariness and anger in his eyes.

The Kid knew it was time. He had to say what he’d been trying to forget. The words the doctor had spoken to him in the darkness of the hallway.

“Heyes,” he blurted as he looked down at his hands again. “The doc said you’re worn right down. And if you don’t get at least six month’s rest — real rest — you’re going to get the lung fever. Then you’ll die. If you don’t have it already.”

There it was. Exactly what they had feared. A deep silence fell in the room. Outside, birds called and a wagon rumbled past. The sound of the horses’ jingling harnesses made the Kid think of the days they had spent in the saddle on the drift. He thought of all the time that they’d spent galloping away from posses of strangers who had only wanted to shoot them dead. That seemed so far away, so simple compared with this small room and the dark shadow in it.

For a moment, water welled in his eyes and he couldn’t see. He wiped it out and hated how Heyes was staring away from him. Lung fever — coughing up blood, getting weaker every day, drawing the air into lungs so ruined that it did no good and so you suffocated by inches. Or months of rest — but where? how?

“Okay, Kid. So now I know.” Heyes still looked away into the far, dark corner of the room. “You go on out. I’m going to get some sleep.”

The Kid rose from his chair and stood beside the bed, his hands dangling helplessly. “What can I do for you? Can I get you something?”

Heyes looked at him at last, “Go to the Sheriff’s office and steal our descriptions. Then get me some whiskey.”

Chapter the Fourth

There upon followed very dark days. Heyes relapsed badly, then rallied under the doctor’s care, but remained weak and indifferent. He hardly answered questions, and never spoke of the future, what they might do or where they could go. Their money slid away steadily despite good playing at the local poker table, where Curry was getting a respectable reputation. The Kid settled the question of their rent by doing chores at the rooming house under the suspicious eye of the widow.

A few times, Curry did go by night to the better places around town and undid some of his repairs. He picked little things that might have broken on their own and that might not upset a Governor if he were to hear about it. And though he tried to keep their situation quiet, word began to spread about the two young men in the rooming house, one so sick and the other circling endlessly on foot from one place to another asking about work.

In its quiet way, the town responded, as people will when they see others in trouble. They began to ask about — Smith, was it? — and to add in a loaf of fresh bread or a pie when they paid Jones for his work. They began to greet young Thaddeus Jones and invite him to sit down, and ask him about his life and where he and his friend had come from. It was a genuine curiosity to talk to someone who seemed to have traveled so much, though no one could learn about him and his friend from his answers.

And this vagueness caused a different type of speculation to begin. People remembered his lightning-fast draw that time at the saloon, observed the gun he wore tied down from habit, and then the second man he’d humiliated began to hint darkly that there might be more to the situation than people knew. His defenders stood by Jones stoutly, but they never thought to tell him what was going on, and his detractors began to think about the descriptions in the Sheriff’s office.

Kid Curry saw, however, that he and his partner were becoming much too interesting to too many people. It made him want to get Heyes on a horse and ride so far away from curiosity that there would be only mountains to look them over. Many nights, Curry sat in their small room as if chained to his chair, the lamplight low, listening to the sound of Heyes’ breathing and watching his friend stare listlessly into the darkest corner.

And after Heyes had fallen asleep, the Kid would sit with his head in his hands, wondering what he would do tomorrow that would make it different from the day before.

Chapter the Fifth

One especially freezing night, the two men sat together in silence. Each had long ago stopped paying attention to the other. Curry had fallen asleep in his chair, and Heyes was staring at the blackness outside the window. The doctor told him he must rally his spirit and try to live. But it seemed so useless and so much easier to wait for it all to be snatched away. Did it matter if it was the Angel of Death or a bounty hunter’s handcuffs that took him?

He often thought of his parents’ funeral. He remembered the sounds of the weeping and the pastor’s promises of heaven. It had seemed to him as a boy to be something wonderful in the idea that his parents now had wings and could fly around like birds. But nowadays he thought only of leaving all troubles behind and getting into heaven. He wondered if they’d let him in. They would, he thought, even without the amnesty. He’d go first and see what it was like. Then when the Kid came, he could show him the ropes.

Heyes would awake from these thoughts and wonder at them. But always, they reclaimed him with a stronger grasp.

When he’d first ridden with a gang, he’d thought death would be swift — a burning bullet hole, a hangman’s noose, or a quick toss onto the rocks that would break his neck. Since then he’d seen enough agony and heard the screams of men who’d caught a bullet and didn’t quite die. He’d watched the short drop of a noose that didn’t break a neck and set a man to strangling and dancing. He was lucky, he thought, that while the end from lung fever would be hard, his suffering might not start for awhile. .

The Kid stirred awake. He glanced around and saw his friend was still staring silently. “You all right?”

“Kid — you’re going to get caught if you stay here. Turn me in — get the reward. It doesn’t matter where I—.”

The Kid scowled. “Forget it, Heyes.”

“You’ll need the money to—,” Heyes began, but suddenly he choked. This was different, not a dry cough, but a wet bubbling up in his throat. He gave one hard cough, then swallowed. When his vision cleared, he looked down and there on a red triangle in the quilt’s wild pattern lay a spot redder than the fabric.

“Give me your handkerchief,” He demanded. He placed its end in his mouth. It came out rosy red. Blood red.

The two men stared, horrified.

“The lung fever,” Heyes gave the cloth to Curry. “Burn it. Don’t bring the doctor. We don’t need him anymore.” He looked at the Kid for a moment, his eyes dark and bright with the dreadful knowledge. He pushed himself up on the pillows as if he might get away from it. Then he hid his face in his hands.

Curry sat on the bed so he could look into his friend’s eyes. He seized his hands and pulled them down. “Heyes, you’ve got to think of something. You can’t just lie here and die on us.”

Startled, Heyes stared at the Kid, and then, slowly, a deep shame came upon him. Here was his partner, who had kept him alive all these weeks, and now had to ask him to do his share. Heyes saw he had been thinking this was his trouble alone. He had known if he died, the Kid would go back to Devil’s Hole, but he’d ignored what that would mean for Curry. That was the life that Heyes had given him when he was not much more than a boy. It would be his death if he returned to it.

“You’re right, Kid,” he answered. “I won’t die without a plan.”

And the two men talked far into the night.

Chapter the Sixth

Some days later, in the early evening, Curry appeared in the doorway with a tin pan and a spoon. Heyes was lying with his eyes closed, as he had been when the Kid left, but Curry was pleased to see a little of a pie they’d been given was gone.

“Bean soup,” he announced. “They sent the pan, but I got the spoon.”

“A spoon at last.” Heyes pushed himself up on the pillows. He was noticeably different. He had become more interested in life. There had been no more blood, but then Heyes had been more careful than before not to cough or tire himself.

The Kid had brought the doctor, who said that at the beginning of lung fever, there still might be a little hope. But a hemorrhage made it imperative that Mr. Smith lead a quiet life, a life entirely free from care and worry, for as long as he needed to recover. That meant many, many months, if not years. In the days that followed, the two friends had talked over the riddle of how to make this happen, and though they’d made no progress, it seemed they might find an idea in time.

“The spoon is the widow’s. I finally got it. If you lose it, twenty years in a Wyoming prison is going to look like fun. Do you want me to feed you?”

“Nah, nah,” Heyes said. “I’ve been feeding myself since I was two. You weren’t even born.”

“All right then,” Curry looked around the darkening room. He lit the lamp. Its yellow circle made everything looked golden and dingy instead of faded and gray. “Shall I read to you?”

“We have a book?” Heyes demanded, surprised.

“A lady gave it to me. It’s the back half of a dime novel, so we won’t waste time,” Curry stated as if this was the best situation when it came to books. He pulled it from his pocket and turned it over to the first page. But then he stopped and said thoughtfully. “You know, Heyes, since we’re going to be here for so long, I’m going to start going to the church. It will make us seem — respectable.”

“Good idea, Kid. But—,” Heyes shook his head decidedly, “we’ve got to move on.”

Curry stuck his knife into the pie and countered, “I have a plan. I’ll walk out to the ranches, show them some shooting, and offer to clean up the cougars if they’ll lend me a horse and gear. Then I’ll come back every week and pay your rent and make sure you’re being treated right.”

“We can’t stay anywhere I know of. There’ll be posses. Bounty hunters.”

“We’ll go to Mexico.”

His friend looked over at him. The Kid thought there was something uncertain in his expression. “Tomorrow I expect a telegraph. Go early to see if it’s come.”

“Now, how could you expect any such thing?” Curry asked. “You haven’t been out of that bed.”

Heyes put the pan on the stand. He said with more confidence and shadow of a smirk, “The widow Statton carried my message to the office, and said she’d trust us for the money.”

“She did what?” The Kid was outraged. “How did you manage that? Do you know what I had to go through to get a spoon? That woman doesn’t like—.”

“Kid,” Heyes began to laugh, but stopped himself before he coughed. He smiled broadly. “Nothing to it, Kid. I just offered to marry her daughter.”

“Marry her — Heyes?”

“Oh, it was only an offer. I knew she wouldn’t have me. She’s not so desperate.” Heyes motioned for him not to interrupt. “I heard a big confabulation downstairs. But — the telegraph was on its way.” He looked hard at Curry, speculating. “She might have you — they like yellow hair. Not if I were well, of course, but,—.” His modest look was followed by a genuinely merry grin.

Delighted, the Kid burst into laughter. “The old silver tongue wriggles back to life.”

When Heyes coughed, the Kid pointed to the bottles on the stand. “Now, take that stuff. Who did you telegraph?”

Heyes looked at the bottles. He winced and raised a hand in weary protest. “They burn like the devil. I don’t need poisoned, too.”

“Take it, Heyes,” came the patient answer. “Was it Lom?” Curry saw in his mind their old outlaw friend, who now wore a Sheriff’s badge.

The Doc’s tonic always made Heyes choke, so he quickly took the other dose and set his teeth against the taste. Finally he answered, “Not Lom. I don’t want Lom to know we’re stuck here. He’s okay, but better not to tell him. And — there’s another reason.”

“What reason?” Curry asked.

But Heyes shook his head, suddenly worn out. “I don’t want to talk about it now.” As it often did, his face had become pinched and tired. He pressed his hand hard against his ribs where the worst pain was and turned onto his side. “I — I feel real tired, Kid.” He raised his arm to cover his eyes, and after a moment, sighed deeply.

“What other reason, Heyes?” The Kid asked. But the only answer was quiet, regular breathing. Curry stared at his partner’s back. He wondered if Heyes might be playing that game he used to drive him crazy with when they were boys. Heyes would pretend to fall asleep when a conversation was at the most exciting point and then lie on his bunk, just waiting for Curry to ask him the question again — and again — and again.

But no, this time Heyes had somehow dropped off real easy. Quietly the Kid took up his hat, turned down the light, and headed for the poker game. He took care to give the money they owed to the widow on the way out — and didn’t look at the daughter.

Chapter the Seventh

Early the next morning the Kid burst into their room. “Got it! So it was Silky!” Outside the sun was barely awake and the dawn sky still held its gladsome colors. Curry pulled the telegraph from his pocket and read aloud, “Cavalry coming Stop Two days Stop Private railcar Stop Cuba Stop Will bring Smith Stop.”

“Cuba!” Heyes exclaimed wonderingly. The two men looked at each other. Racing through their minds were all the pictures they’d ever heard drawn of the island: jungles, beautiful wild women, bananas, plantations, gold, unicorns, and pirates. “Pirates!”

The light lessened a bit in the Kid’s eyes. “They make prisoners walk the plank. And the sharks eat you alive.”

“You just have to get yourself shot before the plank walking begins,” Heyes responded calmly.

But for the Kid the fun was gone. He sat down and ran his eyes over the paper, then looked up suspiciously. “What’s this mean? ‘Will bring Smith?’”

Heyes began to take a deep breath but stopped because it could make him cough. In some way, knowing how sick he was made it easier to take care of himself. And now that he’d shaken off the fancy that Death was somehow his fate, he found he could think again, even if it was hard and piecemeal. Ever so slowly a plan had emerged — a plan that answered all their needs — a real Hannibal Heyes plan. Their friend Silky had proven the right choice to ask for help. Retired from a colorful career, the old man had the heart of an outlaw — and a fondness for Heyes and Curry.

In thinking over their situation, Heyes determined that they must keep on chasing the amnesty. Getting it would save them from jail and grant them years in the territories to enjoy as free men. Though he had to leave the United States, it must somehow be made to appear that he and the Kid were together and leading law-abiding lives. If either left the country for too long, Heyes felt there was a good chance the Governor’s offer would be withdrawn for both.

“We can’t stay in one place, Kid,” Heyes began. “We can’t travel. But we’ve got to go on proving to the Governor that we’re honest men. There has to be a Hannibal Heyes and a Kid What’s-His-Name around.”

The Kid was suspicious enough now to ignore Heyes’ slighting his name. “Yeah?”

“So I asked Silky to find a place for me to stay outside the country. And —.”

“And ‘will bring Smith?’”

“I asked him for an imposter.”

“Stop there!” Curry sprang to his feet and began to pace the room. Furious, he threw the telegraph to the floor and followed it with his hat. “So I’m not going to Cuba. I’m going to stay here and keep running. And not with you — but with a — an imposter?”

“You said you don’t want to take the risk of walking the plank — and the sharks —.”

The Kid swung around to stare at Heyes, his blue eyes dangerous. “So who the hell is ‘Smith’?”

Heyes shook his head, grieving again over what he was doing to the Kid. But he knew he had to ask it, and he knew Curry would agree.

Heyes began quietly, “Kid, do you remember Davis?”

“Davis who, Heyes?”

“Davis Heyes, my cousin.”

“That little —.” Suddenly the Kid’s eyes opened wide. “Not Davis. Not the runt.”

“Now Kid, he’s been up around San Francisco. So, I asked Silky to find him. He can ride and shoot and is pretty good at poker. He’s got a price on his head, maybe he knows the ropes — and he’s family —.”

“Not my family,” Curry snapped. He dropped into the chair with a thud that made it creak. He kicked the bedstead. “Davis? I never heard he was on the dodge. What’s he wanted for? Bank robbery?”

“He’s got a hundred dollars on his head,” Heyes said. “I think he shot a chicken.”

“A chicken! Who gets a price on his head for — chicken shooting?”

Heyes answered thoughtfully, “It must have been an uncommon one. Maybe it was green — or had four legs.”

Kid Curry did a double-take. They say if looks could kill, Hannibal Heyes would never have seen Cuba.

Chapter the Eighth

Two days later found the Kid on the platform by the train spur. It couldn’t be called a station, just a long rectangle of wood for piling things to be shipped. But there was a bench, and Curry had found it. He was bone tired, dozing in the cold, leaning back with long legs stretched out, his gloved hands in his lap and hat over his eyes.

Silky and the runt were arriving any minute. He was the welcome party.

The more he had thought about it, the more he just didn’t want to run with the runt. He told himself again that being angry was foolish. You had to do what there was no choice to avoid. As he thought it through for a third time and felt even less convinced, someone tripped over his feet. A man’s voice barked, “Boy, move your feet. There are other people in the world, too, you know.”

Curry shoved his hat back. “There’s plenty of room, too, if you use your eyes and look around.”

Before him stood a man he’d seen in town and never liked. Black hair cut short, dark eyes, squat, stupid, and always looking for a fight. The Kid made himself relax. He leaned back and put his hat back over his eyes. Better let it pass.

“I’m going to put my boxes right where your legs are, boy.”

“No, you’re not,” the Kid murmured from under the hat.

“Boy, what will you do if I dump one on your feet right now?”

Curry could feel the crowd watching to see what would happen next. Like a nail to a magnet, his hand felt a sudden tug toward his gun. Gritting his teeth, he made himself wait and worked to keep himself under control. That would be a mistake. He wasn’t going to make a third show of his fast draw.

Slowly he rose to his feet and crossed the platform to a corner support. He leaned against it and resettled his hat. Laughter rose around him, but he ignored it resolutely.

Then he heard the far-away sound of the train’s whistle. He looked up and kept looking along the tracks until the back end of a shabby freight car hove into view. There were only five cars, four freight and one a fancy private passenger car, all pushed backwards by a small engine spouting steam like a boiling pot. As it came to a halt, the engine let loose with its whistle’s howl. People on the platform began grappling with boxes and trunks, ready to load. They ignored the Kid as he passed among them to the platform’s edge.

Curry stood by the passenger car, waiting. Then he heard Silky’s shrill voice cry, “I didn’t say take the trunk off the train. I would think you could listen!” A servant stepped out, looking as if he’d sucked lemons. Behind him was the familiar figure of Silky, dressed in the best and looking in this setting like a foreign prince.

“Thaddeus!” he cried, automatically taking up the alias, and the two men clasped hands.

“Silky, it’s good to see you.” Curry said. “How long are you going to stay?”

Silky glanced around the shabby platform. He drew his coat closed against the cold wind. “Stay! When the train leaves, Kid, your partner and I are going to be on it.”

The Kid began to object, but then he heard a light, slightly raspy voice. “Hey, there. Long time since I’ve seen you.”

The runt! Curry turned and found himself staring at a man’s shirt. Slowly, he looked up and there was the face of the runt smiling down at him. “Davis?”

Amused, Davis’ lean face flashed a wider smile and kept on grinning. “’Smith,’ at your service.”

Silky interrupted, “Davis, you can’t be Joshua Smith at the same time Heyes is being Smith. You just be no one until we go.”

Davis Heyes touched his hat, “Okay, Silky.” To Curry he added. “This is going to be fun, Jones. Just like when we were kids together.”

“Yeah.” Curry shrugged and motioned for the men to follow him. “How much time do you have, Silky?”

Together they crossed the platform and shivered as the wind hit them. The Kid led the way through the wet and muddy center of town and toward the widow’s rooming house.

“About an hour.” Silky stared down at his fine shoes as the mud overwhelmed them. “Nice town you chose, Kid.”

“You got a good horse, Thaddeus? How about Joshua’s?” Davis asked.

“We both got sold horses.” Curry spat like a cat, “And no money for new ones. You aren’t on a picnic, Davis. Don’t start thinking we’re going to have fun.”

“Where’s this house, Kid?” Silky complained. “In Mexico?”

“There it is.” The Kid pointed up the muddy street to the unpainted building with its “Rooms to Let” sign. The porch wasn’t sagging, thanks to his efforts, and the tin roof was nailed down tight for the same reason. There was nothing else to say for it.

“Kid,” Davis said in wonder. “Why didn’t you stay at the hotel?”

Chapter the Ninth

The Widow Statton greeted them when they reached the rooming house door. She’d seen them from an upstairs window and joyfully hurried down. The idea of having such a gentleman step into the house made her think now she might raise her rates. Here was no penniless drifter, but a credit to her place’s reputation.

“Good day, M’am.” Silky greeted her, taking off his hat and making a small bow. “May I ask your help?”

She dropped a curtsy. The hallway seemed full of strangers. Even the yellow-haired one seemed larger and more important, as if he had become himself among his friends. He smiled at her, too, as they awaited her answer.

“Anything, sir,” she replied. “I’d be glad to help.”

The old gentleman held out a silver dollar. “My young friend who’s sick will be leaving right away. Could you get us a buggy for the ride to the station? He won’t be able to make the walk.” He slipped a lesser coin into her hand. “For your trouble, M’am.”

“Well, yes I can. I’ll send over to the livery stables and tell them to come now.” She nodded to her daughter, who had appeared from the parlour. The younger woman slipped out the front door with the dollar in her hand. The widow wondered how those boys could know such a gentleman. There must be more to them than met the eye. Oh! Her foolish daughter could have married!

The three men were already climbing the dark and narrow stairs to the room. The Kid paused outside the door. “He’s not good today,” he said in a low tone. “I didn’t think you’d leave so fast, but Heyes said he’d get dressed. It seems to have worn him down. He’s packed though.”

Silky caught Curry by the arm and pointed to Davis. “You go in, Davis. Say hello to your cousin. Family first.”

When alone in the hall, and hearing muffled talk inside the room, Silky reached in his breast pocket and pulled out an envelope. He offered it to Curry. “Kid, here’s five hundred dollars. Get yourself and Davis something to ride and get out of here tonight.”

“Silky, I can’t take that,” the Kid protested. “You’re doing enough.”

“Here, you take it. I want to know you’ve got the cash to travel before I leave. It’ll ease Heyes’ mind. He’s not going to get any help from Cuba if he’s worried over you two.”

Curry waved the cash away, “Why Cuba, Silky? Why not Mexico? It’s closer.”

Silky stared at him hard, then snorted. “You two have about spoilt Mexico for yourselves. Fooling around with ranchers’ border problems, stealing statues, and getting jailed in Santa Marta. In Cuba, I’ve a big house and friends, and I own a cigar-band printing company. So I pay a visit and take my nephew with me. No one cares.”

“You’re awfully good to us, Silky.” Curry said soberly.

“Well, you’re more trouble than you’re worth. Besides, I’ve got business in that direction anyhow.” Silky pressed the envelope into the Kid’s hands. “Here, take it. Take it! Make a rich old man glad he’s got money.”

“We’ll pay you back.” The Kid said as he put the money away.

“When pigs can fly!” came the sharp answer. Silky grabbed the doorknob and turned it. “Let’s get this over.”

As they entered the room, they saw one Heyes lying dressed on the bed and heard the second Heyes talking. The real Hannibal Heyes seemed indifferent to the words pouring around him. He was looking at the quilt again, the little triangles chasing each other endlessly. The spot of blood on the red piece had darkened to brown. It could be anything. He wondered again if he knew the quilt’s pattern, then realized that he might never remember. It had been a long time ago.

Silky shut the door. “Davis, you’re going to wear Heyes out before he leaves that bed.”

Davis Heyes stopped talking in mid-word, but looked amused rather than insulted. The old man was a real character — different from anyone he’d met. Indeed, the chance to be Hannibal Heyes, the sudden reunion with old friends, the entire story of the secret amnesty had seemed like a dream when he first heard it. A good dream. In his cheerful view, his cousin didn’t look that sick. So, he had to rest. Everyone needed a rest now and again. These three men were all fussing like old women. Well, Davis liked adventure and what could be better than being famous — even secretly famous — for six months?

“Go downstairs, and see if the buggy’s come. I want to be alone with these two.” Silky broke into his reverie. Smiling pleasantly, Davis picked up his hat and headed down the stairs.

“Buggy?” Heyes said from where he lay. “I can walk.”

“You can walk on your hands for all I care,” Silky snapped. “But I going to ride. And if the Kid has sense, he’ll ride, too. He’s been listening to you for too long, Heyes. That silver tongue has gotten him into more trouble than — in fact, I think it’s good this Davis fellow is — by rights, I’ll say it! Davis is best for the Kid.”

Curry and Heyes exchanged looks of surprise. The Kid exclaimed, “Silky, have you lost your mind?”

Hurt by his tone, Silky shook his head. “All right, Kid, maybe I did say something foolish. But we’re in a spot and I’m telling you how we’re going to think. Davis and Cuba are the plan. There’ll be no looking back.”

“Silky,” said Heyes. “You know anything you say is all right with us.”

There was silence in the room. Then they heard someone pounding up the stairs. Davis Heyes stuck his head through the doorway. “They sent a wagon — coming up the road right now.”

Heyes rose from the bed and shook off the Kid’s attempts to help him. “You worry about getting yourself downstairs, and I’ll see to me.”

Once downstairs, however, a long, hard journey made by using anything for support, Heyes was content to lean on the Kid’s arm. The wagon pulled up, and the widow opened the door. The frigid wind flew into the hallway like a wild witch. The men set their hats and moved across the porch to the wagon.

“Thank you, Mr. Smith,” the widow called. “You and your friends are welcome any time.”

Heyes had the gallantry to touch his hat, but no breath to speak. Silky climbed up next to the driver. Davis climbed aboard beside him. The Kid got Heyes into the back and settled him so he could lean against the wagon’s side, facing away from the sun. Then he closed the wagon’s tailboard and climbed up next to him. He looked back to wave to the widow, but she had gone inside.

“See?” he said to Heyes. “She just didn’t like me.”

His friend was looking toward Davis, who was holding forth to Silky in a torrent of words. Heyes murmured, “He may not have a silver tongue, Kid, but he does talk a lot.” Then he added, “I’m real sorry, Kid, for it all — starting with our first job.”

“No one made me go along,” Curry answered. “Believe me, Heyes, I’m real glad to see Davis again.”

Heyes raised his eyebrows, “Kid, I could never be sick enough to buy that!” He laughed, then started coughing.

“Don’t talk, Heyes, save your breath.”

Heyes nodded and looked around himself. It felt good to be in the sunshine. He thought if just the sun and fresh air could feel this good, then he had been right to decide to do all it took to live. He wondered what Cuba would bring. He wondered when he would see the Kid again.

The wagon jolted along and the two friends listened to Davis Heyes and Silky arguing about the best way to ship freight. Heyes’ silence began to get to the Kid, and he tried to find something to say. He laid one hand on his friend’s shoulder to get his attention. “You know Heyes, the way we usually ride in wagons, this just isn’t natural. I feel as if we should be tied hand and foot.”

Heyes answered wryly, “Well, aren’t we?”

Chapter the Tenth

At the station there was little chance for words. Silky directed Davis to carry Heyes’ small parcel into the railcar and had Curry settle the sick man on the bench. The private railcar caused no small interest to be taken in the travelers. The Kid acknowledged many greetings from the curious.

Silky glowered from under his heavy brows. “See, Jones?” he warned. “You’re getting too much attention. Get out of here tonight.”

Curry saw Heyes straighten up and look at him with apprehension.

“Don’t worry—,” Curry realized he didn’t know whether to call him Heyes or Smith. “We’ll be out of here before dark. Silky gave us the cash to run as far as we want.”

Heyes slumped back and nodded, relieved. The platform was emptying of goods fast. The engine was building up steam. Time was running out.

The Kid looked up at Davis. The taller man was his partner now. He tried to not ask, but the words came out, “A — a chicken?”

Davis exclaimed, “Well, Curry! It was a very special chicken!”

Curry leaned in close and whispered ferociously, “Shut up. Remember — the name is Jones.”

The Kid could take no more. He turned and walked away to the far end of the platform. There he stood staring into the rough brushy woods. He could not see the whole picture. He could not see that he was the hero in the story. He’d done everything to keep his friend alive. He, the fastest gunman in the West, had chopped wood and pounded nails and sat by a sickbed and nursed a man who was out of his mind with fever. If Heyes was alive and leaving today, it was the Kid who had bought him that chance.

The train’s rough yet musical huff and puffing began to quicken. It was time for it to depart. With deep resignation, the Kid turned and walked back to his friends. Heyes was still sitting on the bench, waiting patiently. Silky was ordering his servant about in that querulous voice that hovered between anger and tears. Davis Heyes was grinning. For six months he would be the big-time Hannibal Heyes. And if he got caught, all he’d have to do was point to the description on the wanted poster.

Curry went over to Heyes. “Good-bye, Joshua.” He held out his hand. Looking at his friend in the sunlight, he knew Heyes was leaving just in time.

Heyes clasped his hand and rose shakily to his feet. “I’ll be back in six months.” His eyes were bright as he clapped his partner on the shoulder. They stared at each other. Too much to say, and yet nothing to say.

“On the train. On the train,” Silky broke in. “It’s leaving.”

Heyes climbed on the passenger car platform beside Silky. The train began to pull forward slowly, jerking each car into action. “Six months — write — or I’ll worry,” Heyes yelled over the train’s noise. Curry could see that awful coughing seize him.

Silky added with some menace, “You’d better write — he can’t afford to worry!”

“I promise!” Curry yelled, already wondering how he’d send the letters. Letters to Cuba would get anyone to thinking. They’d be like a blazed trail left wherever they went. Maybe he would mail them to a friend, who could send them on. What friend? Who could he trust?

Now the train was moving in earnest. The Kid walked with it to the platform’s end and watched as it left him behind. The passenger car was pulled around the bend and out of sight. Heyes was waving as Silky held onto his other arm.

“Kid?” Davis Heyes appeared beside him. He looked down at Curry.

There were going to be six months of looking up to the runt. Curry felt angry already. “Smith,” he said. “I want you to understand something, Smith.”

“Yes — Thaddeus?”

“I don’t ever want to hear about the chicken.”

Right away the reedy voice began, “But you see, Jones, it was a special bird.”

And somehow the Kid knew this was the beginning, the mere beginning of thousands of hours of listening to that voice, that slightly raspy voice, as it spun tales, boasted, laid out plans, told him about the bird, described wild schemes and dreams, and made an awful lot of plain old remark-passing and saying of good morning, good day, good evening and nice day, isn’t it?

Overwhelmed, Curry turned away and started walking.

“Where’re you going, Thaddeus?”

“To the saloon,” the Kid said. “If I have to hear about the chicken. I’ll need a drink to help me forget.”

Chapter the Eleventh

It took eleven months, not six. But one day in late December of that year, a train stopped just outside Wyoming. Among the passengers who left the cars was a man who had good reason not to continue across the border. Twenty years in prison awaited him there. He stood on the platform with his two traveling bags and small trunk. He glanced toward the station house as he pulled on his gloves. He was slim and dark-haired, strong — and alive.

His sharp brown eyes carefully examined the crowd of people. His quiet, unconscious smile drew the ladies’ attention to him. Many curious glances examined his dapper clothes. They were ornate and the coat was cut in an unusual style, not American nor Mexican. Even his gun belt was tooled in a curious pattern.

“Smith! Over here!” A man’s voice sang out. The shout came from the station doorway. Hannibal Heyes looked around and smiled when he saw Kid Curry, covered in dirt and mud, coming toward him with a grin as big as the Sierras.

”Jones! Good to see you! Where’s Davis?” Heyes asked after the hand shaking and shoulder thumping, and taking keen looks at each other had subsided.

“He’s inside getting his ticket for Wyoming. He tells me he wants to go somewhere where I can’t follow.” The Kid nodded at Heyes’ glance, “Well, he grew up. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, I liked him some of the time.”

Heyes observed, “Kid, you look like a mile of bad road.”

“And you?” In answer the Kid took a slow tour around Heyes, eyeing his duds as Heyes displayed them with a grin. “Are you going to ride in those clothes?”

“Of course, Kid, I brought you some.”

“And let people see us?”

Heyes shook his head. “Nah, I’ve dazzled trains full of people all the way across America. Now to sell them for real clothes.”

“Did you like Cuba? Where’s Silky?”

“He’s gone to New York.” Heyes looked away, his face sober. “I owe him a lot.”

The Kid put his hand his friend’s shoulder. “No, Heyes. We do.”

Everything was all right. The running had to go on, but they would do it together. It was all going to be all right again.

Heyes glanced at Curry, then gazed at the ground for a moment. He cleared his throat and picked up his bags. “Cuba? It’s wonderful. When we’ve got our amnesty, we’ll go there and live like kings.”

The Kid asked. “Why don’t we just go now and forget the amnesty?”

“It’s not that wonderful. Amnesty first.” Heyes held out his bags. “Here’s as much of Cuba as I could carry, Kid. For you to see. Let’s get a room fast and look at it. I think something in this one is starting to smell.”

“Hello, Cousin!” Davis Heyes was striding toward them. “Joshua!”

He didn’t look in much better shape than the Kid, and Heyes wondered what they had been doing. Davis held his saddlebags in one hand and a ticket in other. He smiled at Heyes, but kept one eye on the train, which had begun to huff steam more loudly. “Now you can be Joshua Smith for a while.”

“I owe you a big favor, Davis.” Heyes responded, offering a hand. “Thank you for keeping him alive.” He gestured toward the train. “Let it go. Stay a few days. We’ve got a lot to talk over.”

Davis shook his head. “Moving on is a habit now, I guess. I’ve got work in Wyoming.”

“Better you than us,” observed Curry.

Heyes smiled at his partner. “That’s right, Wyoming’s not for us.”

“All aboard!” a conductor cried. People moved toward the train.

As Davis turned and walked away from Heyes and Curry, he called over his shoulder, “Got to go now. ‘Bye, Smith and Jones!” His lean figure slipped onto a car platform and with a final wave, he grinned his last and disappeared.

“Heyes,” said the Kid as they watched the train pull out. “Did you know he’s wanted in New Hampshire?”

“That chicken?” Heyes asked.

Curry nodded.

Heyes laughed. “Let’s get going, Kid.”

Chapter the Last

And thus, the true story of how Hannibal Heyes for a time changed form and character and astonished the entire viewing world. Those who argue that the “new” Heyes shared old memories with Kid Curry, and therefore was the same man, once again underestimate the Kid.

For Kid Curry rose to the occasion in every way and spent so much time drilling Davis Heyes in the part that he was to play that Davis developed some ability to crack safes and occasionally evidenced a silver tongue and clever planning. It is reported truly that Davis Heyes was eager to leave Curry’s tutelage — because Davis was forgetting his real past. And when he asked Curry to remind him of his childhood, the Kid would say only that he’d been a runty tag-along cry-baby who picked his nose.

After a year of interviewing close relatives, Davis reassembled most of his memories and upon meeting Harry Briscoe, turned his chameleon-like ability to assume the identity of others into a career at the Bannerman Detective Agency. And as its starring agent, Davis kept a friendly eye upon those who knew he was wanted in New Hampshire.

And as for Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry — they rode onward into their lives.



About Brenda Reed

I live in a small town, read a lot, am a visual artist, something of a writer, and I love Pinterest.

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